According to Paul Mawhinney, owner of the "world’s largest record collection," 17 percent of the music in his collection that was released between 1948 and 1966 is not available to the public on CD. Still more amazing is that no one or no organization has offered to meet his bid to purchase his entire collection of 3 million records and 300,000 CDs for $3 million. This rather isolated statistic clearly illustrates how much recorded music of the recent past will likely disappear under the mass of music that is released daily.
So, kudos is an understatement when complementing the revived Fania/Emusic Records for digitizing four volumes of Tito Puente’s 78 rpm singles. Volume 2 picks up Puente’s career in the early ’50s, when at age 28 he was already arranging, performing and recording numerous pioneering mambo and proto-salsa songs for the Tico label.
Because this is technically a singles collection, there are a number of familiar gems, like the bolero "La Gloria Eres Tu" and the hip "Mambo en Blues." However, this compilation’s crowning achievement is to cull a number of obscure recordings offered on a specific recording format. Keep in mind that even in the vinyl world, 78 rpm singles are oft-overlooked, perhaps due to their age (i.e., being phased out by the late ’50s, only certain genres of music are found on 78s, which thereby limits the market of interest) and relative inaccessibility (most current record players offer two speeds, 33 and 45 rpm). To have songs like "La Güira" and "Calypso Mambo" readily available again is a welcome effort.
The most notable problem with Volume 2, as with Volume 1 and frankly many of Emusica’s reissues, is the tepid sound quality. Series compiler Joe Conzo notes in the liner notes that "there is a certain warmth to these recordings, a warmth that is absent from many of today’s bands with their cold, tinny and repetitive sounds," but the sound quality here is often muted and muffled. The recordings sound like rips from the 78 rpms themselves, not from the master tapes/reels. On a related note, Conzo’s notes leave something to be desired: His enthusiastic writing is sincere, but it’s hardly expository or informative. Although the design of the package remains true to the period, the above two details could have used more finetuning.
Overall, Volume 2 is still a welcome addition to the ever-expanding reissue market. And, of course, a fine reminder of Puente’s prolific genius.